I am sitting with my cousin on the rooftop of a restaurant in Istanbul sipping in the cool evening atmosphere. The blue mosque and the Hagia Sofia are illuminated nearby. A dervish is whirling in the square below us. A thousand minarets pierce the skyline. But I am almost oblivious to all of that, captivated instead by the dark, invisible mass of the Bosphorus. Or rather, the lights on the other side. Here, west meets east. A world I understand meets a world I don't. I stare, as though it might disappear if I look away. I am 22 and this is my first glimpse of Asia. From the books I've read, and the photos I've seen I can taste the exotic foods, I can picture the landscapes, and the people I will meet. But, at the same time, I have no idea what to expect.
25,000 kilometres later, I have just arrived in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. Nostalgia and emotions gush through my body whenever I reflect on the past two years. I have fallen in love with Asia, and its welcoming people. But here my Asian journey ends. I'm a little nervous to go to Australia. Not by the magnitude of cycling through the outback, but because once again I'm heading to a world I don't understand.
I amble out to the tiny plane parked in the middle of the runway, savouring these final, lingering footsteps. For 5 years I have been obsessed with cycling to Australia. Everyone had told me I couldn't make it, but now I have, and this is my moment.
As the plane takes off, I watch Dili shrink away through eyes glazed with the sweet tears of accomplishment. The road I had pedalled to get here a few days ago, lay below with miniature cars and motorbikes gliding down it. I knew it continued over the horizon, and the horizon after that. If you followed it, in two years time, you'd be standing outside my house, a different person.
Only 1 hour 10 minutes after take-off, I am staring at Darwin. The plane had barely had time to reach cruising altitude. Beyond Darwin, I can see nothing. The city quickly deteriorates into an empty and lifeless landscape which I can see stretching for 40 or 50km. There's something quite mesmerising about its starkness. And suddenly, I remember that this nothingness actually continues for 3,000 kilometres. And I am about to cycle across it! I swallow the lump that has appeared in my throat.
Returning to the developed world, everything I had once taken for granted, feels like a real luxury. “Is it safe to drink the tap water?” I ask my host. “Of course” she replies as if I had just asked a ridiculous question. In the shower there is a tap marked hot. I am hot already and want to cool down, but I don't possibly believe there is actually hot water, so I test it. Unsurprisingly, to everyone except me, hot water pours out. The last hot shower I had must have been nearly a year ago. Having a proper shower and not just a bucket to pour over myself is novel already!
It is strange to be surrounded by white people. I am anonymous. Children no longer chase me, squealing 'Hello Mister, Hello Mister' when I cycle to the shops, and men don't crowd curiously around me, invading my personal space to get the best viewpoint of me eating my lunch. Stranger still, is the fact that everyone speaks English. This morning, I found myself in a shop, working out how I could act out, like charades, that I was looking for an external hard drive. And then I remembered they speak English, I can just ask...
The final shock in Australia has been the monstrous prices. In Asia, I could eat from a restaurant, or street food for $1 per meal. Well, the $5 (£3) per day budget I've lived on for two years doesn't stand a chance here. Yesterday, my first day in Australia, I didn't eat until 6pm, when my hunger finally overwhelmed my terror at the prices.
And now, it's time. I've spent 5 days preparing. Today I head, Into The Outback. It's going to be a huge adventure and I can't wait.